About a month ago, we gave a talk to our Youth Group about the importance of sharing our material wealth with our less fortunate neighbors, reminding them that not everyone has had the same advantages in life. While we tend to have the attitude that what we work hard for should be ours to spend on whatever material possessions we crave, God has a different view in mind for His family. Although He never condones laziness for the poor nor does He demand compliance from the rich (for God loves a cheerful giver),He does ask us to follow His example and give to others what appears to be rightfully ours. To back up our teaching, we read from St. Paul's second letter to the Corinthians chapter 8 verses 8-15: “I say this not by way of command, but to the genuineness of your love by your concern for others. For you know the act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And I am giving counsel in this matter, for it is appropriate for you who began not only to act but to act willingly last year: complete it now, so that your eager willingness may be matched by your completion of it out of what you have. For if the eagerness is there, it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have; not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but that as a matter of equality your surplus at the present time should supply their needs, so that their surplus may also supply your needs, that there may be equality. As it is written:
“Whoever had much did not have more,
and whoever had little did not have less”
We then had the children help bag canned foods, rice, sugar, and packaged nutritious drinks that we bought with a generous donation of $1000 received from a man named Jack ,who was once stationed in the Philippines during his time of army service. He witnessed the poverty of the people, and when he heard we were serving here, he asked us to use the money to distribute food to those in need as we see fit. No sooner had we finished our bagging than Father Joe invited our family to harvest mangoes from the tree of one of Holy Rosary's parishioners, Cherry Uayan. Once there, Cherry approached me to tell about a family her husband and son had just encountered while searching for sweet potato to plant. Their search led them to the dilapidated house of a crippled man. This man--who has a wife that Cherry referred to as “innocent” and three children, two of whom are special needs—hobbles through his garden of sweet potatoes to tend the plants that are his family's only source of food. When he was asked for some sweet potatoes to plant, he asked in return for some rice in order to vary a little his family's diet. Upon hearing this pitiful story, Cherry could not get it out of her heart, and she resolved to ask us if there was anything more we could do for them. She remarked that this man was in no way lazy. He was doing all he could in his poor condition to provide for his family. We marveled at God's timing! We told her we had just given a youth group talk about this very thing, and “yes” we were very eager to visit the family so we could give further assistance. When we arrived at the inadequate house later that week, we were not prepared for what we saw. As there was not enough room for all of us to fit in the house, we stood outside to share God's Word and offer the man a box of food. He looked ashamed, but very grateful. I peered inside to see his two children who were lying half-naked and dirty on the bamboo floor. I smiled at the sweet little girl and her face lit up in the most beautiful happiness I've ever seen! I asked the man their ages, expecting to hear 2 and 4 years. He replied that they were 6 and 9 years old!!! I knew then that their special need was a result of lack of nutrients, probably from the time they were in the womb. These two sweet children could not sit up or speak, and I wondered if they ever had a chance to be outside—to see the blue sky and the rich green surroundings of the mountains and trees. I wondered if there was a way we could give them some kind of seat so that they could watch their dad as he worked the land. Odilio thought maybe we could buy some strollers for that purpose. I love the idea, and I'm still waiting for the time when we can do that. Right now we have the intention of getting the family different kinds of seeds to plant so that their diet will be varied on a regular basis. Also, Cherry's family has offered two of their trees to cut down and use for wood to build the family a better house. We want to work with Father to be able provide the parish maintenance workers for the job. Hopefully, by Christmas, this precious family will have a new home!
One Sunday after Mass, two of our friends, a husband and wife, approached us to ask help for their neighbors, who are fellow fishermen. The husband is the lead fisherman for his group; so when the waters are too dangerous to risk taking the boats out, such as in typhoon weather, the men in his group always look to him to provide them with their daily needs. However, he is in the very same position; and while he may be more respected in the town and able to get some things on credit-which he did in order to help his neighbors-he really is suffering just the same. He asked us if we would be able to offer temporary assistance to the fishermen during this hard time. We said we would be over as soon as we got some food bags together. When we got to their house and told them the number of bags that we brought, they quickly sent word to the neighbors nearest them. Many families with small children arrived. They couldn't thank us enough, but we told them to thank God and to keep praying and following Him and He would always provide their needs. They left immediately, and our friends explained that they were rushing home to eat because they hadn't had their breakfast yet and it was already lunchtime. Then the wife proceeded to tell us that there were still other families who needed help if we could. I could not fight back tears as she relayed how one neighbor(whom I knew quite well) in her desperation had come some previous nights before to ask if their family was finished eating their rice so she could please eat what was leftover. This woman's husband is also a fisherman, but due to the current situation he had been traveling to a nearby town to work as a laborer for $3.50/day. With five children, this was not enough to adequately meet their needs. We went right away to purchase still more food....
All of these people are just a sample of those like them whom we meet every day. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and they are in need. So often we have heard them say how they feel God's love in our presence here, how they cannot believe that we would leave our “riches” for “rags”, and how they hope we can live here a long time. We are making an appeal for them and for us. As of today, we have zero dollars in our missionary funds account. Our visas for remaining here for at least one more month are due on Tuesday, and we do not have the funds to pay for it. If you believe in what we do and if you have a “surplus” at this time, we are asking you to help us in our time of need. Know that we are praying for you, and we are grateful beyond words for any amount that you are able to send!
To close, I will tell you once again of Conchita, whom I wrote about in my last blog. She came to see me almost every day this week, so desperate was she for food. I was becoming a little frustrated, as she would come at most inconvenient times, and I prayed for patience and true love to receive her. When she came today and I gave her the food that she needed, she hugged me tightly and with her voice cracking with emotion she said, “You always give to me, and I am ashamed I have nothing to give to you. I will go to the church and pray, and I will give you grace.” Tears streamed down my face as I thought how my gifts could not equal hers-how hers was so much richer, and how we are just friends exchanging needs!
You can send your donations to:
Odilio and Stacie Alvarez
c/o Family Missions Company
12624 Everglade Road
Abbeville, LA 70510